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The Netherlands and Denmark have confirmed plans to provide Kyiv with more than 40 multipurpose F-16 fighter jets, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said after visiting both countries.
But the first transfers of the American-made jets for which Kyiv has long pleaded is likely to involve a lengthy pilot training process, meaning they will not arrive in time to help Ukraine during a tough summer counteroffensive that has only delivered moderate gains since it began in June.
The announced transfers, approved by Washington on Friday, marks the first time Ukraine’s western allies will provide Nato-grade aircraft to Kyiv. Slovakia and Poland have given Ukraine their fleets of Soviet jets.
“F-16s will certainly give new energy, confidence and motivation to our fighters and civilians,” Zelenskyy said during a Sunday press conference at a military air base in the southern Netherlands city of Eindhoven.
Standing alongside Mark Rutte, the outgoing Dutch prime minister, Zelenskyy said: “We will use these jets to keep Russian terrorists away from Ukrainian cities and villages,” referring to a Saturday Russian ballistic missile strike on a theatre in central Chernihiv, north of Kyiv. Seven people were killed and more than 100 injured.
Zelenskyy in a separate post on social media platform X said his country would receive 42 of the jets being retired by the Netherlands. Rutte said his country has that amount in stock, but he declined to specify exactly how many would be delivered to Kyiv. He said “around 15” were needed for training.
“We need planes to help us train,” a Dutch government spokesman said. “We are looking into whether we can supply the remaining planes but we have to see even whether they can be updated.”
During a press conference with Zelenskyy at Skrydstrup air base in Denmark, Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen said her country would donate 19 F-16s, which the Ukrainian president confirmed on social media.
Denmark, which has 43 F-16s, said the deliveries would be made “gradually” while the Nordic country moves to the newer F-35 jets. The Netherlands is also buying a fleet of F-35s.
“Denmark will do everything we can to expand the coalition so that more countries can help deliver the F-16s that Ukraine needs to strengthen its air defence,” said foreign minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen.
Zelenskyy will spend Sunday night in Denmark before addressing the country’s parliament and meeting Queen Margrethe on Monday.
Frederiksen said the first six F-16s should be delivered around the end of this year, eight more in 2024 and the remaining five in 2025. It was not immediately clear when the Dutch jets would arrive in Ukraine.
Danish officials said one condition of the donation was that the jets were used by Ukraine only to defend itself, not for attacking Russia.
Ukraine started pleading for western fighter jets soon after Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022.
Ukraine’s strong air defence systems, composed of a depleting Soviet arsenal and newly arriving Nato-grade surface-to-air missiles, have prevented Russia’s massive air force from achieving air dominance.
But Ukrainian pilots have complained that their ageing Soviet fleet cannot provide proper cover for infantry because Russia’s newer-generation fighter jets with longer-range radars and missiles are able to fire on them and ground positions from safe distances.
Additional reporting by Alice Hancock in Brussels